I am currently finishing a documentary called Sheep Among Wolves Volume II about the underground Church exploding in Iran. You may not know this—I surely didn’t—but the Iranian Christian Church is the fastest-growing Christian movement in the world. According to the U.S. State Department report on international religious freedom, in 2017 there were 350,000 Christians in Iran. That number is rapidly approaching a million today. Praise God!
Hearing the stories of these church leaders, their faces blurred and their voices dubbed in the film, has been devastating and inspiring all at the same time. They walk out the door to worship every day at the risk of not returning, while I have to muster up the motivation to get in my car so that I can sit freely in the adoration chapel. No, I am not writing a guilt-trip post for those of us who live in the west. I could write that post (and make a good case that we need to step it up), but this is about something in the documentary that deeply encouraged me. It is about the women. The testimonies from the women are incredible.
Because everything is underground, the Gospel must be spread from one person to the next, and it’s the women who are leading the movement. They have been unstoppable when it comes to telling everyone about Jesus. Why are the women leading so powerfully? One church leader answered this question as she shared her story.
She shared that she grew up in a culture that doesn’t value women, and she was oppressed and abused repeatedly by the men in her life. She learned to be an atheist from her mother, whose heart was hardened toward God from similar oppressive experiences. After spending her entire young life with no faith, carrying around crushing pain, she tried one last time to end her life. Right before she did, she opened a crack to God, and the Holy Spirit rushed in. She shared that after two years of neither laughing nor crying, she wept all night as she experienced the divine healing of the Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit transformed her pain and she felt the love of God despite years of feelings unloved, she became relentless. She is now one of the most involved leaders in the Iranian Church.
Listening to her with tears in my eyes, I was reminded of the Samaritan woman who met Jesus at the well in John 4:7–42. It is clear from the account that this woman carried a similar pain in her heart from the years of her life that were worn by sin, and Jesus gently but directly addressed that pain. He offered to transform her pain into glory as He offered her Himself, the living water. Once she realized who He was, she accepted His invitation, and became the powerhouse that brought her whole town to Jesus.
The Iranian woman also reminded me of the women who delivered the news of Jesus’ resurrection. In Luke 24, Jesus appeared to two of his disciples as they walked on the road to Emmaus. They didn’t recognize Him and so started to recount the events of Jesus’ crucifixion and death. This is what they said about the women: “Some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive” (Luke 24:22–24).
It was the women who went to the very place of their most profound sorrow, the grave of their dead Savior. There, they learned that Jesus had risen and became the first to herald the news of the resurrection.
Ladies, the pain we carry from living in a sinful world, and giving in to the sin ourselves, runs deep and is personal. Whether we experience major trauma or just the beat down of everyday life, the suffering that we experience goes right to the core of our being, and the enemy will do everything in his power to make sure that it is never transformed. He encourages us to verbally degrade ourselves and embrace the belief that we are not valuable, because he is fully aware that the same power that transforms women into relentless kingdom builders will do the same through us. He knows that the moment we allow all of that baggage to be transformed, we will become unstoppable for Jesus and His Church. He will do anything to stop us. The enemy knows just how dangerous you are. Do not let him win.
Dear sister, no matter what your daily life looks like, no matter how you view yourself, God created you to stand confident in His love and to have an impact on His Church that goes far beyond your imagination or understanding. Do you believe that? I’m not talking about fame or achievement. I’m talking about the holy influence that leads others to Christ for eternity.
Every time you choose to lean into holiness, God uses you. Every single time you say no to discouragement and allow the Holy Spirit to transform your pain into glory, He uses your story to reach the heart of another. Just look at your sisters in Christ throughout history and around the globe. They were born into original sin just like you were, they carry similar pain, and they have the same magnificent Savior. Throughout the Church’s history, God has used women just like you to build His kingdom even when their place in society could not have been more insignificant. This Easter season, what does He want to do in and through you? Will you believe that you are worth it? Will you let Him do the work? Say yes—the world will be better off because of you.
 FAI studios, “Sheep Among Wolves Volume II,” YouTube video, 1:53:18, August 23, 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9SAPOLKF59U
 “2017 Report on International Religious Freedom,” U.S. Department of State, May 29, 2018, https://www.state.gov/reports/2017-report-on-international-religious-freedom/
 Jayson Casper, “Researchers Find Christians in Iran Approaching 1 Million,” Christianity Today, September 3, 2020, https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2020/september/iran-christian-conversions-gamaan-religion-survey.html.
It’s Thanksgiving week, and although COVID-19 has messed with a fair share of travel plans, I would guess that many of us will still be sharing the holiday with loved ones. While this is something that can result in joyful feelings of anticipation, it also leaves some of us worried about how people are going to get along around the table.
If only we all agreed on religion and politics.
If only awkward and hurtful things wouldn’t ever be said.
If only we knew how to encourage one another in a way that really hit the mark. Wouldn’t that make things easier?
I think we often conclude that the only way to get through holidays with sticky relationships is to keep things on a very superficial level and not talk about anything that really matters. But when we settle for this, our relationships aren’t very satisfying. How can we take things to a deeper level without things getting fractious?
I believe that asking certain questions and truly listening to the responses can be a game changer. Here’s a link to some conversation starters that we’ve created with diverse groups of people in mind. Most of us have different views represented around the Thanksgiving table. These questions help us to get to know one another on the heart level without focusing on our differences.
Perhaps there is someone on your heart who you know is not open to God and spiritual growth. If the opportunity presented itself and the groundwork has been laid first with good listening, you might want to ask him or her, “What if there’s more?” Allow that question to sink in. Respect the question enough to allow time for silence and processing. Don’t hesitate to leave your loved one with the question hanging. It’s a good one to wrestle with.
When asked how to evangelize in a culture that is indifferent to God and religion, Bishop Robert Barron has said that we should begin with the beautiful, which leads you to the good, which points you to the truth. We need to show that Christianity is attractive. As Blaise Pascal famously said, we are to make good men wish it was true.
So how do we do this? How do we begin with the beautiful? Creating a lovely Thanksgiving table is a quiet way of ministering to the heart. Beauty breaks down barriers. Another way is to increase our exposure to beautiful and good literature, art, and music. The imagination can offer a spiritual opening as we begin to consider the possibility that there is something of meaning, something that moves us, something more than the superficial things that surround us.
Bishop Barron has said, “Agnostics are often deeply interested in beauty, goodness and truth. Find out which one they are interested in—that’s your hook. That’s your string that you need to follow. Keep going in that search for ultimate meaning. The passion for justice is an echo of the voice of God in you. It’s summoning you. The conscience—what is it—what is calling you to something better, something good, something just? Could that be God?”
Perhaps there is someone at your Thanksgiving table who is spiritually searching, but he or she is searching in the wrong direction. You are probably really tempted to point out what is wrong about their search. I would encourage you to resist that temptation. Instead, you might want to consider pointing out the things he or she is doing well. Is he seeking truth? Desiring a life of purpose? Let her know you are proud of her. This is something we never stop needing to hear.
I pray that you start having more conversations with your loved ones about the topics of meaning in life, purpose, what we want out of life, how we can be truly fulfilled, and how we can be happy. I pray you’d be able to enter into these conversations and listen. To resist the urge to give the answer. To allow your children to talk.
In preparation for Thanksgiving, you might want to pray the following for the loved ones who will be around your table and those far away.
I ask that you would give my loved ones a heart to know you, that you are the Lord, so that they will be your people and you will be their God. May they return to you with their whole hearts. (Jeremiah 24:7)
I pray that you would give my loved ones a new heart and a new spirit…that you would remove their hearts of stone and give them hearts of flesh. (Ezekiel 11:19)
May you open my loved ones’ eyes and turn them from darkness to light, from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in you. (Acts 26:18)
I pray that you would grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil. (2 Timothy 2:25-26)
God, we know that no one can come to Jesus unless the Father draws them. May you draw our loved ones to you. (John 6:44)
May you overwhelm our loved ones with the reality of your love, so that he or she can “grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge.” (Ephesians 3:18-19)
For I declare that “He who fears the Lord has a secure fortress, and for his children it will be a refuge.” (Proverbs 14:26)
I declare that you “will contend with those who contend with us, and you will save our children.” (Isaiah 49:25)
I declare that “not one word has failed of all your good promises.” (1 Kings 8:56)
I declare that the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayers. (1 Peter 3:12)
I declare that all my children shall be taught by the Lord; and great shall be my children’s peace. (Isaiah 54:13)
I declare that you have begun a good work in my loved ones' lives, and you will continue to complete it until the day of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:6)
Happy Thanksgiving, my friend!
Grace and peace,
When unwanted and unexpected circumstances hit, we are faced with the unwelcome reminder that we are far less in control than we’d like. We’re reminded of our fragility and mortality, subjects we’d rather ignore.
Philippians 4:7 (NAB) promises that “the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” All too often, I equate that peace with feeling in control. But that isn’t what God has promised me. He’s promised me that HE is in control, and that if I truly believe that, I can experience peace. Pastor A.W. Tozer wrote, “The man who comes to a right belief about God is relieved of ten thousand temporal problems.” Our belief in God should keep us from panic, despite our circumstances. Faith, not fear, should be in the driver’s seat.
What should be our witness to a watching world when panic encroaches? Should we respond differently because of our faith? It’s interesting that one of the things that caused early Christianity to spread like wildfire throughout the Roman empire was the way in which Christians courageously stepped into danger. When most fled the city of Caesarea because of the plague, the Christians stayed and cared for the sick and dying. The ripple effects of their compassion resulted in many conversions.
This does not mean we throw caution to the wind and act recklessly, but the knowledge that our ultimate safety rests with God, and that He has taken care of our eternity, should bring peace to our hearts. These truths should impact our anxiety levels.
In the words of Dr. Gregory Popcak, “Anxiety is meant to be a sign that we are facing imminent danger.” Are most of us facing imminent danger? What are the things we are afraid of? I would propose that most of us are scared about the wrong things. We’re scared about whether or not the job is secure, or scared that our reputation is tarnished and people don’t like or respect us, or scared that our level of comfort and health might change, or scared that our finances are going to take a turn for the worse, or scared that our children aren’t happy, or scared that our marriage is going to fail and we’ll be left alone. These are not small things. We look at the people we love and…we’re scared of divorce. Of being cheated on. Of mental illness. Of suicide. Of cancer. Of bankruptcy.
What are most people not afraid of? Eternity. Because they choose not to think about it or because they have a faulty understanding of what it is. As a result, all that matters is the here and now. This way of thinking is the true threat. The biggest threat—the biggest danger—is that the enemy might succeed in getting us to take our eyes off of who we are, why we are here, and where we are going. Is it possible that we are most afraid of the wrong things?
All too quickly we forget that “this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, because we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18, RSV).
Please hear me. These verses are not saying that our suffering doesn’t matter to God—that He thinks what we are going through is no big deal. But what that verse is saying is that none of our suffering is without purpose, none of it is out of God’s control, and this life—this present suffering—is not all that there is. In the words of St. Clare of Assisi, “Our labor here is brief, but the reward is eternal. Do not be disturbed by the clamor of the world, which passes like a shadow.” This is not the end of the line. We are just passing through. Let’s live with our eyes fixed on eternity. That’s the only way the peace that surpasses understanding can be ours.
With you on the journey,
 A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy (San Francisco, CA: Harper Collins, 1961), 2.
 Dr. Gregory Popcak, Unworried: A Life Without Anxiety (Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor, 2018), 18.
My mother recognized the power and influence that women were going to have in my life. Instead of leaving that influence to chance, seeing who I might naturally be drawn to who may or may not have pointed me toward God, she took charge. Throughout middle school and high school, she found women who she believed would have a positive spiritual impact on my life. She asked them if they would be willing to mentor me.
Carolyn Searway, Tenley Ireland, and Laurel Lufholm (two of these women are no longer living) all had a part in shaping who I am today. They drew from their experience, had me read certain books that we’d discuss, baked cookies with me, prayed with me and for me, held me accountable…they changed my life. Carolyn taught me what to look for in a husband—challenging me to think long term even when I was in high school. Tenley taught me how to have daily quiet time and the importance of it. It was Tenley who challenged me to choose something that I wanted to be an expert in—something I was going to be passionate about and take to the next level. I debated making my one thing the theater, but I chose the Bible instead. She introduced me to the idea of living your life according to priorities and giving God first place. Laurel taught me that it isn’t so important that we be charismatic when we talk about Christ—it’s far more important that we be faithful in the hidden places.
My mom didn’t wait to see if this was what I wanted to do. Quite honestly, I didn’t. But one thing I could not deny, these women cared about me. I knew they were busy and were offering me what was precious: their time. They kept showing up, and I kept showing up, and without even realizing it, I was learning life principles that I still go back to today. I wonder how often they wondered if what they were doing was worth it. Perhaps they did. But they didn’t give up. They made a mark on my soul.
There comes a point when kids naturally want some independence from their mothers. When my mom saw that coming, she chose someone to step in; she chose who she wanted speaking into my life. This is something you can arrange for your children, but what I really want you to think about is being that person.
You may feel ill-equipped. But I promise you, God has given you everything you need. In the words of St. Paul, “God did not give us a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7).
My friends, this next generation is ours to raise. All of us. We all are needed. Godmothers, aunts, stepmothers, grandmothers, sisters, coaches. The words they listen to matter. The words we speak matter. So we choose to speak life—about this generation and to this generation. We look in their faces and tell them there is hope. We tell them that they are beautiful and beloved. We tell them they are needed, and they have an important place here in our hearts and here in the world. We encourage them to love well and extravagantly, to sacrifice for others, to be kind, to search for truth, and to persevere. We do all we can so they can stand on our shoulders—so they can reach higher. Don’t underestimate the power of your words, written and spoken. But not just the words spoken to them; also the words spoken about them.
The next generation is listening, and more importantly, they are watching. Young women are looking at our lives for evidence that Christ really makes a difference. They are asking the perennial questions that we need to wrestle with, too.
Everyone asks, “Who am I?”
Is your identity rooted in Christ, or in your achievements, possessions or reputation?
Everyone wants to know, “How can I find real love?”
Do they see selfless, other-focused, forgiving love in your life?
We all ask, “What does it mean to be happy and live a good life?”
Does your loved one see Christ in you, resulting in joy?
People are asking, “How can I find lasting peace?”
What is seen more in your life: peace or worry?
I know that we are all on our own journeys. None of us is perfect. But if we are serious about passing the faith to the next generation, then we’re going to have to take a serious look at our personal witnesses. Do young people want in on the quality of our lives?
This next generation is ours to raise.
So we will not let go. We will not give up.
We will not allow the flame of faith to be blown out—not on our watch.
P.S. This month we’re inviting the WWP community to send messages of gratitude and encouragement to the faithful women who have prepared the way for Christ in our lives—women like Carolyn, Tenley, and Laurel. Join us as we build up our sisters in Christ and pay it forward to the next generation at the same time. Learn more here.
She scrolled through the list on her phone -- at least fifty names -- one name after the other, along with a description of how far she had gone with each. Most of them she'd slept with on the first date. Longing desperately for love, she wondered if she would ever find it. With confusion in her eyes, she asked why they never came back for a second date.
I can't get her question out of my head. This is not because I don't know how to answer it; it's because this precious young woman is not an anomaly in the millennial generation. The level of lostness, confusion, sexual experimentation, lack of purpose, and anxiety among young women has reached a crescendo that I find deeply concerning. They cannot answer the most important questions: Why am I here? Who am I? What is my purpose? How can I be happy? I am talking about our daughters. Our granddaughters. Our nieces. Our loved ones.
St. Paul spoke prophetically about our times in 2 Timothy 3:1-7:
But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of stress. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman...haters of good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding the form of religion but denying the power of it…Among them are those who make their way into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and swayed by various impulses, who will listen to anybody and can never arrive at a knowledge of the truth. (emphasis added)
By the millions, young women scroll through their social media feeds, listening to anybody, but never arriving at a knowledge of the truth. This isn't just true of them; this is true of our society.
In his book How Now Shall We Live, Chuck Colson writes:
When we embrace nonmoral categories to explain away moral evil, we fail to take it seriously,and we fail to constrain it. When we refuse to listen to the true diagnosis of the sickness of the soul, we will not find a true remedy, and in the end, it will destroy us.
In any society, only two forces hold the sinful nature in check: the restraint of conscience or the restraint of the sword. The less that citizens have of the former, the more the state must employ the latter. A society that fails to keep order by an appeal to civic duty and moral responsibility must resort to coercion-either open coercion, as practiced by totalitarian states, or covert coercion, where citizens are wooed into voluntarily giving up their freedom.
When morality is reduced to personal preferences and when no one can be held morally accountable, society quickly falls into disorder. Entertainers churn out garbage that vulgarizes our children's tastes; politicians tickle our ears while picking our pockets; criminals terrorize our city streets; parents neglect their children; and children grow up without a moral conscience. Then, when social anarchy becomes widespread in any nation, its citizens become prime candidates for a totalitarian-style leader (or leader class) to step in and offer to fix everything. Sadly, by that time many people are so sick of the anarchy and chaos that they readily exchange their freedom for the restoration of social order-even under an iron fist. The Germans did exactly this in the 1930s when they welcomed Hitler.¹
My friends, in this regard, we are vulnerable. It is time for us to stop wringing our hands, and go after the hearts of the next generation. How do we do this?
First, we pray. This is not a second-rate action item to be used only after we've tried everything else first. The biggest block to God reaching the hearts of our children is stubbornness and pride. Yes, the cultural myth that faith and science are contradictory has, unfortunately, been taught to and embraced by many of our children. Yes, the difficulty of reconciling a good God and the suffering and evil in the world can create a barrier. Yes, many of them have been convinced that faith in God is just a crutch. All these things get in the way of our children finding God. But if a heart is proud and stubborn, it doesn't matter how much proof is presented. The heart will still resist. And the only one who can get into the heart and soften it is the Holy Spirit. So praying for this softening is critical and the first step.
Second, we cling to hope while taking action. I realize our children are leaving the Church in droves. But how many of them are setting off on this path, hoping for misery? That would be zero percent. They are all searching for authentic happiness, and we know that true, transcendent happiness is found in Christ. It is possible to be fulfilled, satisfied, and clear about who you are and why you are here. There are answers to their deepest questions. But it's critical that we meet them where they are, help them to explore the questions they care about, and give them space to journey at their own pace. You may be wondering exactly how to do that. I have spent the past two years noodling on this very topic with a sense of urgency and passion that I haven't experienced in a long time, and things are starting to become much clearer to me. This is why we are throwing open the doors to all women (ages 18+) for Flourish 2020, our first-ever women's conference on March 13-15, 2020.
We are creating a curated experience that encounters women on their search for happiness, and leads them to the only One who will satisfy. Please join us. Please bring your daughters. I am writing this content for them. I know it isn't easy to work out the costs and logistics for a women's conference, especially if it isn't in your neck of the woods. I know it's hard to talk your daughter into coming to something that sounds religious, but getting yourself and your loved one to this conference is going to be worth the effort. Instead of a birthday or Christmas gift, ask your daughter to give you the gift of her presence with you for the weekend. I promise you, God will meet her there. And He will meet you, too. The deepest desires of your daughter's heart are likely your desires as well. God alone will quench the thirst.
¹ Chuck Colson, How Now Shall We Live (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1999), 191, 199.
“Why then did you not obey the voice of the Lord?” 1 Samuel 15:19
If we can't wait to tell our girlfriends about our new favorite Netflix series, you can be sure that when we taste the difference that Jesus makes in our lives, we'll want other people to experience the same. Nowhere is that desire more intense than when mothers want to pass their faith to their children. I'm often asked about good resources for this, and what to do about older kids who have stopped coming to us for advice and who probably aren't listening to us much at all. It would be so simple if the solution was found in a book or a program that I could recommend. But that's not what I've seen to be the most effective. Here's what I think is the total game changer: MAMAS WHO ARE RADICALLY OBEDIENT TO GOD.
In 1 Samuel, we find Saul, a man who stood head and shoulders above all the Israelites. God chose him as Israel's first king, but even with all his accolades, good looks, brawn, and leadership opportunities, Saul had self-esteem issues. We know this from the words of the prophet Samuel, Israel's spiritual leader. In I Sam. 15, Samuel was calling Saul out for not obeying the Lord. Saul was supposed to wait for Samuel to come and offer a sacrifice before a battle, but fear crept in, patience wore thin, and Saul took matters into his own hands and did it himself.
The first words out of Samuel's mouth when he saw Saul was this: “Though you are little in your own eyes, are you not the head of the tribes of Israel? The Lord anointed you king over Israel.” (1 Sam. 15:17) He then went on to ask Saul why he didn't obey the voice of the Lord after being given clear instructions.
Samuel was basically saying, “Saul, even though you don't think you are adequate or amount to much, God has chosen you for a really important task. He anointed you to LEAD. He told you to obey. So what were you thinking?!”
Saul responded by saying, “I have obeyed the Lord. I went on the mission he sent me on. These are all the things I did do. Why the obsessive attention to minute details? I obeyed in the big things. Isn't that good enough?”
And Samuel's answer brought down the hammer; “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.” (1 Samuel 15:22) Then the news was delivered that God had rejected Saul as king. Obedience didn't just matter in the big stuff. God was concerned with the details.
So back to our kids and our desire to pass our faith to them. There are great materials and programs out there, and we are wise to expose our kids to them. But there is nothing that will have greater effect on our children than our own radical obedience- not just in the big things, but in the little day-to-day decisions that most people in our lives don't see but our children do.
Romans 12:1 says that we are to “present [our] bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” This is a picture of us offering everything we have on an altar to God. It's a declaration that we are willing to take our hands off our lives and let God be utterly in charge. It's giving Him the right to call the shots on the big things and the little things. It's committing to a life of prayer where we are in touch with God throughout the day so that we recognize the small ways He's asking us to obey, not just the big and obvious ones. It's committing to radical obedience where we do what He has asked ALL THE WAY, RIGHT AWAY. This is what our kids notice. This is what impacts them deeply.
Our kids are asking the question, “Is this faith thing for real? Does Jesus really make that big a difference?” And they look to our lives more than our words for the answer.
We hear that call to offer our lives as living sacrifices-to obey radically-and all too often we say, “God, I'll obey you if….”.
Make no mistake. Whatever is on the other side of that word “if” is what we want and worship most. That is what we are willing to sacrifice for. And our kids know it. They see it. We all worship something. Whether it's comfort, a career, a relationship, status… there is something that we will give anything to have and hold onto. God asks that it be HIM. He asks that our obedience not be tied to conditions.
The only way we will ever be able to obey Him in this way is if we see Him as infinitely wise and infinitely kind. We need to know Him in order to trust Him. This is why we delve into Scripture- so that we can know Him better. So that we can see evidence of His wisdom in order to trust in His plan for our lives. In order to hear of His kindness so that we remember He is utterly FOR US.
Where is God asking you to obey right now? What choice is in front of you? Who will you worship in this moment? What is holding you back?
I pray that we can follow hard after God in the big and in the small, because what our world needs is women whose trust in God translates into brave and radical obedience. Being up to date on our social media feeds, having perfectly organized homes, nailing it with deliverables at work- all of that feels great. But the simple acts of obedience CHANGE THE WORLD.
*This post first appeared on the WWP website in February 2017.
In the spring of 2018, my parish wrapped up its first full year of Walking with Purpose. Women's hearts were full, leaders were engaged, and our parish clergy and staff were supportive; but more than anything, participants were excited to share their experiences with others.
This newfound enthusiasm is exactly what makes Walking with Purpose parish programs so special. You may have heard comments just like these:
Finally, this is exactly what I've been waiting for, but better!
I love that it incorporates scripture, as well as our Church's history and teachings all in one!
I love my small group!
It's true that Walking with Purpose fulfills a longing for many of us. We want to share what we've found, which is fantastic! This is evangelization at its finest, and the Holy Spirit at work in our Church.
There are a few challenges as we seek to share abundantly what we've found, but hold tight! Walking with Purpose Bible studies allow us to meet the needs of many women in one place at one time without draining our leadership teams. This is an opportunity for us to admit that we cannot (and should not) do it all. We must hold our Walking with Purpose programs loosely.
As my parish approached its second year, we had the following to look forward to:
My dreams as we approached our second year included:
I committed these dreams to prayer, and remembered them during daily jogs with my sidekicks, Annie and Rosie (Yellow and Black Labrador Retrievers, respectively) while praying the Rosary. I'm not great at sitting still, so with fresh air and some movement, I found myself face to face with the image of our Savior through the eyes of our Blessed Mother.
The prayers on these jogs allowed for the Holy Spirit to lay out a plan which became a tremendous support to our parish program. Key ideas came to fruition:
First, we looked at all of our Opening Your Heart small group leaders as one group so that our daytime and evening Opening Your Heart small group leaders could support one another. This group received a one page leaders' guide for each week's lesson.
Second, we created a video conference meeting time for all of our Opening Your Heart leaders. We used the leaders' guide to go through the main points of the lesson and discuss any ways that we might make the week special. Most importantly, we prayed for each other and the women in our groups. This was especially important for our evening leaders because this was their only leadership team meeting. Two of my favorite parts of the video conference meeting were that we could be in our own homes and we could record the meeting for those who needed to listen later.
Third, our daytime Opening Your Heart leaders were excited to experience the study planned for our returning participants. Even though they would not lead that study, they completed Touching The Divine as their personal study, which we all discussed at our daytime leadership team meetings.
Finally, we wanted to communicate our schedule and Connect Coffees clearly despite offering two studies at one time. To do this, we created a one-page document with the Opening Your Heart and Touching The Divine schedules side-by-side. We did the same with our invitations to Connect Coffees. We created an attractive one-page invitation with a brief summary of both studies' talks. These were emailed, texted and handed to potential guests. We began to talk and pray about our Connect Coffees a couple of weeks in advance. We promoted them as “easy evangelization” while reminding women that when God places a friend or neighbor on our hearts, we must respond. We began to share simple evangelization tools with everyone in our program. This included prayer and obediently responding to God's prompting by asking the friend more than once (that's the hard part).
I have a dream for each of our parish programs and my dream is a big one! I'm not afraid anymore of asking for big dreams when I know that God has placed them on my heart. So here it is:
Let's all offer Opening Your Heart in our parish programs every time we meet.
Our God is not a God of limits or boundaries. He is a God of miracles and overcoming obstacles. Let's just do it! Yes, you! Place an option for Opening Your Heart on your registration forms alongside each and every one of your study offerings. I promise God will work out the details. I love Lisa's “I Declare” over a fear of the future from 2 Timothy 1:7 --
I declare that God has not given me a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power, love, and a sound mind.
Let's counter our fears with truth in God's word and offer our parish program up to our Father. Sisters, breathe in the words of Saint Paul to the Philippians, “Let us be confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion.” May God bless you abundantly for placing your trust in the arms of our Savior and incorporating the details for welcoming new women into your parish program through Opening Your Heart.
P.S. Walking with Purpose has turned many of these ideas into leader tools and training videos which are now available in the WWP Leadership Portal! If you don't yet have access to the online Leadership Tools, register for access today.
Based in Kansas, Emily Thengvall is a Walking with Purpose Regional Area Coordinator (RAC), supporting WWP parish program coordinators at 33 parishes in the midwestern and southwestern US.
Six years ago, I heard Lisa Brenninkmeyer preach on Loving People To Christ. Since that day, I have gone back to view the video of this talk at least ten times. And there is one line that always gets me. It's the kind of line you hear that cracks you up and has you elbowing your girlfriend next to you, because it is not only funny, but sadly...it is true.
In the spirit of evangelization and reaching the farthest woman out there, Lisa shared that whenever she gives a shout out and says, “I want everybody to come back here next year with a friend”, we kind of go, “Oh, well, they're all here, so I'm good! Done. Check.” Does this sound familiar? Because it does to me. In fact, I just reviewed my Parish's annual Walking With Purpose Program Survey, and I kid you not, but in answer to the question, “Did you invite women to join you on Connect Coffee days”, someone responded, “No. All of my friends are already there.” See why we laugh?
And I am not picking on any woman who responded this way. I am not laughing at someone out there. I am laughing at me. Because I could've written that response myself.
I am going on my sixth year in Walking with Purpose, having served in a variety of roles, and I will honestly share that the year I simply participated, I got oh so comfortable. I figured I had reached out enough. I had been a Coordinator and a small group leader. I had even worked for National as a Regional Area Coordinator. It was clearly time I got some well-deserved rest, and let some other laborer hit the fields and bring forth the harvest. Now, make no mistake, God is all for our rest and refreshment, and when it comes to ministry work, we especially need it. But rest and complacency are not the same thing. The truth is, if we want to contribute to the building up of God's Kingdom, I am pretty sure we need to cross feeling comfortable off of our lists.
How did I know I was too comfortable? It wasn't because I started showing up at Bible Study in my pajamas (as tempting as it was). It was because I stopped reaching outside of my circle.
“We get comfortable in our holy huddle”, Lisa says, referring to these circles. ”We turn inward. The circle gets smaller and smaller and what we become are spiritual consumers looking for the next thing to feed us and keep us going and the focus stays right here.”
Let's be honest. We want to be the one that God sends out, so long as He doesn't send us outside of our comfort zone. We come up with all sorts of reasons why God shouldn't send us: we don't know enough; we are not the right woman; we can just live it out right where we are with the small circle of friends that we have and that is good enough. But ladies, God is not calling us to comfort. He is calling us to go and gather every single one of His precious daughters, and by the power of His spirit, to lead them to Him so that He can break open their hearts just as He has done to our own. We are called to freely give away what we ourselves have been given, and the only way we can do that is if we broaden our circles.
Is this scary? Yes. Is evangelization going to be a battle? Absolutely. But the biggest battle we are facing is one that is hidden. “The war is against our selfish hearts”, says Lisa. And I nod my head in agreement to the beat of my own selfish heart, because really, do I practice as I preach? Do I reach out so that I feel the stretch? Hebrews 12:15 instructs us to “see to it that nobody misses the grace of God.” Notice, the Scripture verse does not say, “see to it that nobody within your small circle misses the grace of God.” Nobody refers to everybody.
Did you ever consider that your story might be what saves another woman? Did you ever consider that there is someone in your neighborhood, at your school, in your grocery store, at the gym, at your Bible Study, that is in desperate need of your specific story? You will never know the difference your story can make in someone's life if you sit in the same chair and tell it to the same person, year after year. As Lisa says, “We all agree in the power of His presence, but we sometimes underestimate the power of ours.”
This year I have decided to leave the comfort of my Walking with Purpose seat at my table, and step back into the role of Coordinator. Perhaps God is calling you to step out of your comfortable seat as well? Widening our circles, and reaching beyond who we know, is both responsibility and gift. We can still keep our comfy circles. Building His Kingdom can be both. As a wise woman told me, “We need to embrace the power of ‘and.'” We can love our like-minded friends who know us so well, and reach out beyond our comfort zone to the woman whose face is familiar but whose name we don't know. Matthew 10:8 says, “Without cost you have received, without cost you are to give.”
This is the charge. This is God's command. It's time to get uncomfortable and start drawing bigger circles.
View Loving People to Christ video.
“Beauty will save the world.” Fyodor Dostoevsky
What do you think of when you hear the word beauty? My mind first goes to breathtaking sunsets, softly falling snow, a blue sky reflected on a still lake. When I move beyond nature and think of beauty in people, it isn't exterior beauty that comes to mind, but what emanates from the soul. That's what truly takes my breath away.
When asked how to evangelize in a culture that is indifferent to God and religion, Bishop Robert Barron has said that we should begin with the beautiful, which leads you to the good, which points you to the truth. We need to show that Christianity is attractive. As Blaise Pascal famously said, we are to make good men wish it was true.
So how do we do this? How do we begin with the beautiful? One way is to increase our exposure to beautiful and good literature, art, and music. The imagination can offer a spiritual opening as we begin to consider the possibility that there is something of meaning, something that moves us, something more than the superficial things that surround us. But nothing beats the beauty of a life well-lived. This is especially true of someone who is able to find beauty, meaning and hope while suffering. When we see this, we lean in. We wonder how it is possible. When a person of faith faces adversity with grace and grit, a watching world wonders if perhaps their beliefs are true.
While beauty can be found in the ashes, that's not the only place we find it. There is something incredibly attractive about a woman who knows who she is and what she is here for.
Our world is disarmed by genuine transparency. People know how to spot a hypocrite. This means that the way we live is critical. Who we are is intricately tied to what we do. We can't separate the two. The choices we make are forming who we are. Our actions, our choices, are not disconnected from the person we are becoming. In the words of author Brittany Rust, “The definition of who you are belongs to the Creator of the Universe and it is left to you to decide who to become.”
Have you ever said, “I'm a good person deep down, despite what I did last weekend”?
There is a serious disconnect in a statement like that. Why? Because in large measure, you are what you do. If I were to tell you that I'm a good soccer player despite the fact that I never make a goal and don't know how to dribble the ball, you would say, “I'm sorry, but you're actually not a good soccer player. Your desire, your good intentions, don't translate into that actually being who you are.”
So once you determine who you are at the core- a beloved, precious, chosen, daughter of God, you then need to decide, “What kind of a person do I want to be?” When we feel lost-like we can't figure out who we are-it's often because we have never answered the question, “Who do I want to be?”
At the end of your life, how do you want people to remember you? What kind of a person do you want people to say you were? I challenge you to write your answer down. Not a treatise-just five things that you want to be true about you, things that for you would make you feel that you were a person who had lived life well. Then use your mind to start making the choices that are consistent with those goals. Some of those choices will be really hard because you will have to suffer in the short term in order to get what you want in the long term. But as you consistently make those choices, you will start to know yourself and be known as the kind of person who is…whoever you have chosen to be.
Your current actions and choices are forming who you are-right now. You are becoming a certain kind of persona-and this plays out especially in the little things.
I've heard it said that there's no treading water in the spiritual life-you are either moving forward or going backwards. Each and every action is reinforcing a habit and all the habits together are forming who you are becoming-what kind of a person you truly are.
As Coco Chanel said, “Beauty begins the moment you decide to be yourself.” When your true self is a beloved, chosen, forgiven daughter of God, you have an irresistible beauty to share with the world. I pray that we would bring beauty, goodness and truth to a world aching for all three, whether it realizes it or not. In doing so, we will be pointing them to Christ.
I have tremendous hope for tomorrow. My hope lies in the power and faithfulness of God, the indestructibility of truth, and the youth I witnessed at SEEK 2019.
A year ago, Walking with Purpose hosted a booth at the FOCUS Student Leadership Summit (SLS 18). This was a high energy gathering of 9,000 young adult, Catholic leaders. I had the privilege of giving the closing keynote and we sold thousands of our new young adult Bible studies. We were scattering seeds and praying that they would take root. Our greatest desire was to pass on a passion for God's Word to the next generation.
January 3-7, Walking with Purpose hosted another booth at a national FOCUS event, this time at SEEK 2019. SEEK drew 18,000 Catholic college students to Indianapolis, IN, and we were excited to launch our newest young adult Bible studies series- Harmony, Perspective and Exhale. We experienced hundreds of conversations with young women who were back for more, because the seeds that were planted a year ago had taken firm root. These young women had been delving into our Bible studies, using them for personal growth and also leading small groups of other students all over the country.
The Holy Spirit is on the move on our college campuses. I know that depressing statistics abound, telling us that this next generation is walking away from the Church. And I don't deny that many are. But what I witnessed at SEEK was thousands of young people determined to chart a path to holiness, service, and intimacy with Jesus. I have never been more inspired and encouraged in ministry. What a mountaintop experience.
While having incredible heart-to-heart conversations with young people was the highlight of my week, it was also an enormous joy to give a talk titled “Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts.” I shared that after the decision regarding whether or not to follow Christ, the next most important decision we will ever make is who we marry. I challenged everyone to start thinking about their future marriages with their eyes wide open, and to pay attention to the ways in which our culture has lied to them about marriage.
We explored the following five lies and debunked them with truth:
~Getting Married will fix what's broken in my heart.
~It doesn't matter if he/she shares my faith if he/she is a good person.
~My porn use won't damage my marriage.
~Tinder and other dating apps are a good way to find a life-partner.
~Living together before getting married is a good way to see how compatible you are.
The lies make sense, but each one represents a pitfall that moves people farther away from a successful, happy marriage. It's my prayer that the openness I saw in the students is an indicator that they will grasp hold of truth and stay on the path to good and healthy future marriages.
As I came to the end of my talk, I acknowledged how hard it is to navigate the current “dating world”. But my belief in the strength and conviction within these students gives me great hope that they are going to make great choices, some better than the ones those of us in our generation have made.
What do I see within them?
I see an inner-strength, power, and desire to have a healthy, good life.
In a world that longs for comfort and often settles for superficiality, I see their hunger for truth, justice and holiness. It sets them apart.
I wish that their desire to grow closer to God meant that the enemy would just give up and leave them alone. But I know that nothing scares him more than young men and women who know their true identity as beloved children of God, and he is terrified of the ones who take their faith seriously. The more committed to God they get, the more the enemy will tempt them to settle for mediocrity.
Because of that reality…
I pray that we all would exhale any sense of powerlessness- the feeling that nothing will ever change. May we inhale the spirit of hope.
May we exhale any sense of complacency that wants to settle where it's comfortable. I pray we would inhale passion for holiness and a willingness to take risks and pursue greatness.
May we exhale any religiosity which might tempt us to equate outward religious appearance with inward conversion. May we inhale God's grace.
I pray most of all that God would have our hearts- that most precious part within. May He meet us in that hidden place, bringing balance, rest, and peace.
With you on the journey,
Watch Lisa's talk at SEEK 2019 and share it with a young adult!